On Saturday the UFC will return to the spiritual home of mixed martial arts for only the third time in its history, and it augurs well for UFC 142 that on the previous two occasions upon which the organisation has visited South America, the results were spectacular.
It is well known that the UFC was founded by the legendary no holds barred fighting family, the Gracie’s; however, it had been twelve years since the last event in Brazil when middleweight champion fought Yushin Okami at UFC 134 and his performance- and the event as a whole- were regarded as among the finest in MMA history.
Little wonder then that company president Dana White sought a quick return to Rio, even less that he chose the young Brazilian featherweight phenom, Jose Aldo, for his flagship match-up. As with UFC 134, a large compliment of Brazilian fighters feature on the cards but- unlike many similar European based events- the depth of outstanding mixed martial artists in the country means Zuffa can ensure a national interest for home fans while ensuring outstanding match-ups.
One of the event highlights is sure to be the bout between unbeaten and highly touted kickboxing specialist, Edson Barboza, against Liverpool’s Terry Etim who, while also predominantly a Muay Thai practitioner, has obtained the bulk of his career wins by submission. Barboza’s last fight was against Etim’s countryman Ross Pearson at UFC 134 in which his range, arsenal of kicks, and takedown defence earned him a decision. Etim’s background should prepare him admirably for the Brazilian’s leg assault and he may even enjoy an advantage with regard to pure handspeed; these factors, coupled with an ever improving submissions game, could prove decisive in derailing Barboza’s considerable hype.
Though the Etim/Barboza match-up is one of many worthy bouts, there can be little question that the weight of interest at UFC 142 lies in its co-main events, featuring as they do fights between Vitor Belfort and Anthony Johnson, as well as featherweight title-holder Jose Aldo and team alpha-male prospect, Chad Mendes. Belfort, himself a former UFC champion, has already signed on for the next season of TUF against old foe Wanderlei Silva in Brazil and will be desperate to defeat Anthony Johnson, making his long anticipated move up to middleweight.
Belfort is as close to a legendary figure as exists in what is all but a neophyte sport, but for all his inconsistencies since he first burst into MMA in spectacular fashion, he is now nothing if not a well-rounded, battle-hardened fighter. The former Carlson Gracie protégé has not lost to anyone except Anderson Silva since 2006 and has added aspects of Karate and Wrestling to his repertoire which have ironed out many of the variables of his game, and in Johnson- a long tipped prospect in the UFC- will have an apt opportunity to prove his progression and the validity of another shot at the middleweight title.
Even at a higher weight-class Johnson is a spectacular physical specimen, possessive of explosive physical power and the ability to knock out opponents with both hands and feet; nevertheless, Belfort is a fearsome finisher and he too is at last at his ideal weight, will expect a comfortable win. Johnson is a very serious challenge in all departments, although he will probably spend little time in trying to put the veteran on his back. However, the Brazilian has spent over a decade training to prevent the best wrestlers in the world from pinning him down and is unlikely to be shown anything new by Johnson. The American may one day be a serious force in this weight division, but Belfort is not nearly ready to be used as a stepping-stone for the new guard.
The main event of the evening will be centred on a young man many believe to be the best pound for pound fighter in mixed martial arts. Jose Aldo has lost just one fight in his 22 bout career and has developed a reputation that bridges the WEC’s transition to the UFC featuring devastating muay-thai and the sort for elite level BJJ one seldom finds outside his Nova União training camp. His opponent, Mendes, trains at “Team Alpha Male”, sometimes uncharitably referred to as “the midget wrestlers”, and run by former pretender to Aldo’s throne, Uriah Faber.
The only possibly excitement in this battle comes from the belief that not only is Mendes the best wrestler Aldo has faced, but also that Aldo is best dealt with by dumping him upon his back. However, like Jon Jones in the light-heavyweight division, Mendes’ wrestling is a tenuous peg upon which the UFC is seeking to hang its competitive cap. In reality, Aldo has not only superb take-down defence, but equally excellent attacks and escapes off his back. Most significantly, as Brock Lesnar recently demonstrated, an elite level striking game can make excellent wrestlers apprehensive about launching themselves head-first for takedowns. This is likely to play out in a similar fashion. Mendes will be very aggressive early on, but strikes will eventually take their toll, and short of an extra-ordinarily conservative approach, the fight is likely to be taken by the champion before the championship rounds.
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